EDITORIAL There are some clear and compelling things San Francisco needs to be doing to protect the environment and reduce its carbon footprint, such as converting to renewable electricity sources and promoting alternatives to the automobile. But as the past couple of weeks at City Hall have demonstrated, city officials are letting petty politics interfere with working together to do the right thing.
Obviously, the most important step toward combating climate change is to convert the power portfolio of city residents to renewable energy sources. Nobel laureate Al Gore challenged the entire country to move toward 100 percent renewable power sources within 10 years during a landmark speech July 17.
But days later, when Gore appeared at the Netroots Nation convention in Austin, Texas, to repeat the challenge to the assembled bloggers, fellow guest speaker Mayor Gavin Newsom came out against the San Francisco Clean Energy Act, which would set even more modest goals for conversion to green power sources.
Newsom's reason, as Sarah Phelan and Janna Brancolini explain in this week's Green City column, is fear of provisions in the legislation that call for studying just studying public power options for achieving these goals. Considering Newsom has repeatedly told the Guardian that he supports public power, it's disgraceful that he's so beholden to Pacific Gas and Electric and so mindlessly adversarial toward the Board of Supervisors that he would oppose setting high green power standards.
But Newsom isn't the only one playing this game. Board president Aaron Peskin is trying to scuttle Sunday Streets, which would temporarily close six miles of roadway to cars as part of an international trend to promote carfree spaces, simply because it was Newsom who proposed it (see "Pedal power ," 7/23/08).
True, Newsom is a newcomer to the carfree movement having spent years blocking proposed street closures in Golden Gate Park but his conversion was warmly embraced by progressive groups such as Livable City and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and should have been supported by Peskin and other supervisors.
Meanwhile, the city is doing little to fight the ongoing court injunction against bicycle projects even as required environmental work on the Bicycle Plan falls behind schedule. In connection with a July 21 hearing on that delay, both Planning Director John Rahaim and City Attorney Dennis Herrera have called for reform to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and for changes in how the city interprets traffic impacts under the act.
"It's truly ironic that an activity that is inherently environmentally friendly is being challenged under an environmental law," Rahaim said of bicycling as he testified before the Land Use Committee. He's right. City officials should aggressively move forward with the local reforms under consideration and push the bureaucracy to keep the Bike Plan on the fast track.
Meanwhile, our state legislators should work to amend CEQA to exempt pedestrian and bicycle improvements from costly and time-consuming environmental impact reports and our federal representatives should start laying the groundwork now to ensure next year's big transportation bill reauthorization promotes alternatives to the automobile.
As a gesture of cooperation and goodwill, Newsom should come out and support Sup. Chris Daly's latest proposal to close Market Street to automobiles, which would greatly speed up public transit, improve pedestrian safety, and create an attractive bicycle boulevard in the heart of the city.
The idea was first pitched by former mayor Willie Brown and has already been studied and vetted by the city bureaucracy. This could be the first big cooperative project between the board and the Mayor's Office, a team effort against the forces of the status quo. And if it is successful, just imagine what they could take on after that.